“You Are Not Your Own:” Unmarried Women Belong to Their Parents

This post is part of a series called“You Are Not Your Own,” focusing on rape and sexual assault in Christian relationship/dating books

Trigger Warning for rape, sexual assault

Note: this research mainly focused on female rape. Though it is not the focus of my project, male rape is a huge problem as well–1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. I wanted to make it clear that, despite the focus of my study, it is not only women (and definitely not only cisgender women) who face sexual violence. 

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In case you haven’t been following my You Are Not Your Own series (you can catch up here), I analyzed four Christian dating books (Real Marriage, When God Writes Your Love Story, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Dateable) and I came up with four significant findings related to the area of rape and sexual assault:

  1. These books create an environment ripe for rape myth acceptance
  2. They create a context in which no one truly has ownership over his/her own body
  3. They ignore the importance of consent, or create an illusion that consent exists where it does not
  4. They blur the lines between rape/sexual assault and consensual sex.

I’ve already covered the first finding (here, here, and here), so now we’ll move on to finding number two.

2. No one owns his/her body

It’s not surprising, really. When both men and women are talked about as if they are objects or animals, it’s easy to talk about people (especially women, in the context of these books) being owned by others. A “piece of meat” belongs to whoever bought dinner. A formerly “wild animal” belongs to whoever tamed him. 

When men are animals and women are objects or weaker animals, they don’t get much say over their own bodies. They don’t own themselves, so who does?

Well…

Unmarried Women Belong to Their Parents

I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story both clearly promote the idea that unmarried women are the property of their parents, especially their fathers.

Joshua Harris, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, calls for a return to courtship (p. 29) throughout his book. Harris believes that only ADULT women who are ready for marriage should be in romantic relationships, yet he encourages men who are pursuing a relationship with a woman to recognize her parents’ “authority” (p. 198), saying “A young man ought to show respect for the person responsible for the girl.” (p. 197)

Notice, though Harris believes only adults ready for marriage should be romantically involved, and though he refers to “a young man,” he still calls women girls. He does this throughout the entire book! Of course, “girls,” even when they are actually adult women, are not responsible for themselves.

In my friend Jason’s case, Shelly was actually the second person to find out about his desire to pursue marriage [Remember, to Harris, "pursue marriage" means starting a relationship, not proposing]….Before he went into action, he chose to give proper honor to Shelly’s parents, first by asking their permission to grow closer to their daughter for the purpose of pursuing marriage. (p. 197)

Even if a “girl”‘s parents aren’t around, there is always someone above her who is “responsible for” her: “If that means approaching her pastor or grandfather, do it.” (p. 197) Her pastor? Let me get this straight, so, even though I’m an adult woman, if my parents don’t step up to the task of owning me, my pastor can claim me as his property?

Eric and Leslie Ludy, in When God Writes Your Love Story, promote the same ideas. Leslie Ludy says, of herself, “God had given me to my parents as a treasure they were to care for, provide for, and protect.” (p. 223) She then talks about how her husband, Eric, asked permission from Leslie’s father before even telling Leslie that he had feelings for her.

[Eric] had always thought of me as an individual, independent and making all my own decisions. Now he realized God had put a protective covering over my life—the authority of my parents. (p. 222-223)

Silly Eric, thinking that a woman could be an individual who makes her own decisions! After Eric got permission to pursue a relationship with Leslie, he continued meeting with Leslie’s father:

My dad taught him how to win my heart…What girl wouldn’t feel like a princess in that kind of scenario? The two most important men in my life were spending hours doing nothing but discussing who I was, how I was made, how Eric could understand me better… (p. 225)

While this scenario might have worked out for Eric and Leslie Ludy, both of these books send the message that this is ideal for every relationship. They send the message that a woman’s father knows her better than anyone…including herself. That father knows best, and if he doesn’t, then grandfather or pastor knows best. Never the woman herself. They send the message that women are not really adults, not really individuals who can make their own choices by themselves, but property to be transfered from one owner to the next. 

These books take away a huge chunk of women’s autonomy and give it to her parents, especially her father, in the name of “protection.”

Women are objectified, forced into gender roles, and treated with benevolent sexism, and rape culture prevails. 

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  • http://avanomaly.blogspot.com/ Jamie

    Thank you for this. Your work here is so valuable, and hopefully freeing for many who grew up with these books.
    The Harris books never sat right with me, and I always wondered how a whole movement could have risen from it. Sometimes I think we let the assumed authority or popularity of written, published words override our discernment. You have taken time and effort to unpack and expose them. I wish I had been more vocal about the whole mess of awkward it was making all around. I felt like a rebel, but I’m certainly glad my husband and I dated and treated each other like fully autonomous adults rather than endure the courtship model.

  • Christine

    My husband, when he proposed, told me that he was sorry, he hadn’t been able to ask my parents’ blessing on him proposing. He was very clear, however, that he would not ask their permission, because that just wasn’t appropriate. One of the reasons he’s great, right there.


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